Francis And His Molineux Links – Yes, Really!

How Wolves Idols Helped Blues Superkid

A talented cross-region England under-23 line-up…..alongside Sir Alf Ramsey are (from left) John Richards, Peter Latchford, Trevor Francis, Bob Latchford, Geoff Palmer and Barry Powell.

It’s drastically stretching the point to attach any ‘Made in Wolverhampton’ tags to Trevor Francis’s fabulous playing career but there are connections on this side of the patch that many may have overlooked.

First and foremost, the superkid of Midlands football half a century ago was taken to Birmingham by none other than Stan Cullis.

The quiet Devonian was signed as an apprentice at St Andrew’s at 15 in 1969, although the Iron Manager had departed into managerial retirement by the time the electrifying forward made his first-team debut by going on as a substitute in a Second Division game against Cardiff in September, 1970.

Bill Shorthouse, one of the powerful forces behind Wolves’ post-war rise to greatness, was another who helped with the development process of the star who came to be seen as English football’s first £1m player.

The tough FA Cup winner and League champion followed up his backroom work at Molineux by serving Blues in a similar capacity and, with scout Don Dorman, even had a spell of more than two months in caretaker charge there after Cullis had left in March, 1970.

Bill Shorthouse – had a St Andrew’s close-up of the young Trevor Francis.

Such was Francis’s feat in becoming a European Cup winner with Nottingham Forest, then a trail-blazer for British stars going abroad and, along the way, a 52-cap England international that we at Wolves Heroes felt we must mark his sad passing this week at the age of 69.

Our co-owner John Richards was a friend of his, partly through a strong mutual connection with drummer Bev Bevan, and said: “Trevor was one of the best players of his generation, without a doubt.

“He was always one of those opponents we saw as a danger and he was probably at his peak at Forest, although he had been a brilliant youngster at Blues. It seemed a huge fee when he moved in 1979 but he won one European Cup final with a diving header and then played in another, which they also won, so he repaid the investment!

“When we were both playing, we would meet at the Midlands Soccer Writers events, awards nights or even England age-group gatherings and would have a drink in the players’ bar after games between our clubs.

“We met a few times through Bev Bevan and Jasper Carrott as well and I think I can call him a friend rather than just an acquaintance. I know he was hit hard by the loss of his wife Helen to cancer and he seemed to be more private after that, although we met five or six years ago at the funeral of a friend of Bev and Jasper’s.

“One thing that did surprise me about him was that he had such a good career in management. He was very quiet and unassuming, a genuinely nice guy with nothing bad to say about anyone.

“He was never the life and soul of a place but I was wrong in thinking his nature might hold him back as a manager. Obviously it didn’t.”

Francis was Sheffield Wednesday’s manager at the time of their stunning FA Cup penalty shoot-out defeat in a replay at Wolves in 1994-95. And it was desperately sad to hear a few hours later on Monday that Chris Bart Williams, the Owls player whose late penalty was saved by Paul Jones in the original game at Hillsborough, had passed away, too.

He was only 49, also with strong Forest presence on his CV; another taken way too soon and one of those who benefitted from working with Francis the boss.

From the other end of the superstar’s career, we spoke to Bob Hatton, a mid-1960s Wolves forward and then a free-scoring member of the Birmingham side who won promotion in 1972 and battled hard to consolidate in the top flight.

“I signed for Blues in November, 1971, when Trevor was already in the first team and aged 17,” Hatton said. “I was the grand old age of 24.

“He had made a super start to his career and seemed to have scored almost a goal a game over his first 15 matches or so. Freddie Goodwin, who had taken over from Stan Cullis, was expecting Trevor’s form to dip, so he told me he wanted me up front playing with him and Bob Latchford.

“I was Trevor’s room-mate and remember him loving ELO. The one thing that worried me was his injuries and the fact he was having cortisone injections while still in his teens. But he had real moral courage, as well as terrific ability, and never let spells on the sidelines get on top of him.

“About five years ago, Jeff Lynne was being honoured at the Walk of Stars in Birmingham with a ceremony and I was invited to the get-together in the library.

No sign of TF! Derek Parkin watches Paul Bradshaw produce a safe catch in the 1980 League Cup final.

“As is my way, I stayed for around half an hour and thought I could slip away without anyone missing me but Trevor saw me going down the escalator and shouted for me to go back up for a group photograph. Getting hold of that photo has become more of a priority now we have lost him. It’s very sad.”

We couldn’t sign off this tribute without asking for a defender’s view and could think of no-one better than Derek Parkin to tell us what facing Francis was like.

In the 1980 League Cup final, the full-back and his team-mates famously blunted the forward and the rest of Cloughie’s side of multi champions to taste Wembley glory once more.

So what was the secret? What plans were drawn up? “When we were facing Trevor, we always spoke of the need to get a good tackle in early to let him know we were around – if we could catch him, that is!

“He was very sharp off the mark and a really good player. I went up against him quite a lot when he was playing for Blues, Forest and possibly Manchester City and he was lightning quick. That was his big asset.

“Brian Clough was at his peak when he signed him and he didn’t make many mistakes in the transfer market then, did he? It proved to be a wonderful deal. That lad had so much going for him.”